ESPN’s Lunardi says Nebraska ‘not close’ to NCAA tournament bid

March 10, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — Joe Lunardi gets it. Nebraska fans have been “constant” and “passionate” in their questions about whether the Husker men’s basketball team, which won 13 games in the Big Ten, will make the NCAA tournament.

So Lunardi, the bracketologist for ESPN, wants to put it as kindly as he can when asked to assess NU’s chances at making the field.

“They’re not close, relatively speaking,” Lunardi said. “If we were talking about a team, with their profile, outside the Big Ten, we wouldn’t even be having the conversation. They don’t have the wins or the schedule. They’re hanging their hat on a 13-5 that was created artificially.”

Lunardi said he understands NU coach Tim Miles’ case for the Huskers making it, and the Big Ten’s argument, as well.

“But this is Big Ten in name only,” Lunardi said. “And I think the committee is more than smart enough to see that.”

Like most bracketologists, Lunardi has just four Big Ten teams — Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Ohio State — in the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Against those teams, Nebraska finished 1-4. Of the five games, only one — a 72-52 win over the Wolverines — was played at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Nebraska is among the “next four out” on Lunardi’s list, behind Penn State, which is also on that “next four out” list. Lunardi lists his “next four out” after the “first four out.”

According to The Bracket Matrix, a website that compiles most known online bracketology work, NU remains in four projections. TeamRankings.com, an advanced statistics site, projected Nebraska had an 84 percent chance to make the field. Miles tweeted a link to the projection Thursday.

What if Nebraska makes the field?

“That would probably mean that ESPN has a new bracketologist next year,” Lunardi quipped.

The Husker women, ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme said, have probably done just enough to make the 64-team field. He has NU as his final team in because of five top-50 RPI wins and successfully passing the “eye test” in the last three weeks.

“I have them in the field — just barely — because of the way they’ve played of late,” Creme said. “If you watch Nebraska and the improvement they’ve had throughout the season ... I hate using the words ‘eye test,’ because everybody’s eyes are different, everybody’s agendas might be different in terms of what they’re looking at. But Nebraska’s improved considerably and they’ve looked like a ‘tournament team’ in the last three weeks or so.”

Creme doesn’t love Nebraska’s RPI — 60 as of Thursday — or NU’s nonconference schedule, which featured just two games against top-50 opponents — losses to Buffalo and Creighton. But Creme said he didn’t blame coach Amy Williams for scheduling softly given she had a young team coming off of a 7-22 record last season.

Creighton’s women should also be in the NCAA tournament, Creme said, in part because of the Bluejays’ aggressive nonconference scheduling. Creighton scheduled UCLA, Florida State, South Dakota State and South Dakota; three of the four are likely to make the Big Dance. Creme cited Creighton’s win at Nebraska as another plus.

The Creighton women appear in all projections on The Bracket Matrix. The Bluejays’ average seed is an 8.